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Arthur, Timothy Shay (06 June 1809–06 March 1885), editor, temperance crusader, and novelist, was born in Orange County, New York, the son of William Arthur and Anna Shay, occupations unknown. He was named for his maternal grandfather, Timothy Shay, an officer in the revolutionary war. By his mid-twenties, Arthur had yet to identify a profession or receive an education. In the 1830s, however, he began an intense program of self-education as well as a writing career as a journalist in Baltimore, where he quickly became a well-known and articulate champion of numerous social causes including temperance, Swedenborgianism, feminism, and socialism. In 1836 he married Eliza Alden; they had seven children....

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Bacheller, Irving (26 September 1859–24 February 1950), novelist and publishing executive, was born Addison Irving Bacheller in Pierrepont, St. Lawrence County, New York, the son of Sanford Paul Bacheller and Achsah Ann Buckland, farmers. Irving attended local schools in Pierrepont, then switched to an academy in Canton, New York, after his family moved there. His secondary education at Clinton Academy was sporadic, however, as he spent long periods during his teenage years working at various jobs—telegraph operator, laborer, post office clerk, bookkeeper, salesman, teacher—to help support the family....

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Louis Bromfield Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1933. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-103721).

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Bromfield, Louis (27 December 1896–18 March 1956), novelist, experimental farmer, and newspaper columnist, was born in Mansfield, Ohio, the son of Charles Bromfield, a banker and local Democratic office holder, and Annette Marie Coulter. His father was from an old New England family, and his mother was the daughter of a pioneer family of Richland County, Ohio; both ancestries would influence his later fiction. Bromfield attended Mansfield public schools, spending summers on his mother’s family’s farm. In 1914–1915 he studied agriculture at Cornell University and then briefly attended Ohio Northern University in Ada, Ohio. He then studied journalism at Columbia University until his enlistment in the U.S. Army Ambulance Service in June 1917. He served with Section 577, attached to the French army, from December 1917 to February 1919. He participated in seven major battles during World War I and was awarded the Croix de Guerre. He was discharged in June 1919 while still in France....

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Charles Brockden Brown. Watercolor on ivory, 1806, by William Dunlap. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution; given in loving memory of Katharine Lea Hancock by her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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Brown, Charles Brockden (17 January 1771–22 February 1810), novelist, historian, and editor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Elijah Brown, a merchant and land conveyancer, and Mary Armitt. The fifth of six children in a prosperous Quaker family in the nation’s most cosmopolitan city and first capital, Brown was shaped in his early years by his Quaker background and the era’s tumultuous revolutionary politics. From 1781 to 1786 he received a classics-oriented secondary education under Robert Proud at the Friends’ Latin School of Philadelphia and displayed an enthusiasm for literary composition. Although his earliest work is lost, he composed derivative poetry in the “primitive” vein, based on the Psalms and Ossian and planned but never completed verse epics on the exploits of Columbus, Pizarro, and Cortez. The period’s political and ideological conflicts touched Brown’s family directly when revolutionary authorities exiled his father to Virginia for several months, deeming the father’s Quaker position of principled neutrality an aid to the British. While Brown’s Quaker background facilitated his early exposure to progressive British dissenting writers such as William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, who would become crucial influences, it left him outside the period’s Congregationalist and Presbyterian cultural elite and predisposed him to his lifelong stance of reasoned skepticism of utopian or perfectionist notions for political change. That is, Brown’s background and early years helped shape his career-long concern with the violent ideological controversies of the early republic, as well as his characteristic tendency to see both the destructive and productive aspects of the period’s far-reaching political upheavals....

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Cain, James M. (01 July 1892–27 October 1977), novelist and journalist, was born James Mallahan Cain in Annapolis, Maryland, the son of James William Cain, an English professor and college president, and Rose Mallahan, an opera singer. He graduated from Washington College in Chesterton, Maryland, at age seventeen in 1910. Cain held odd jobs and studied singing briefly in hopes of pursuing an opera career before he decided to become a writer in 1914. He returned to Washington College to teach English and math and earn a master’s degree in drama (1917), while he tried unsuccessfully to publish short stories in magazines. He began his journalism career, which was to span six decades, in 1918 at the ...

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Coffin, Charles Carleton (26 July 1823–02 March 1896), novelist, journalist, and lecturer, was born in Boscawen, New Hampshire, the son of Thomas Coffin and Hannah Kilburn, farmers. He grew up on the family farm, attended the village school, and studied for a year at the local academy. Coffin, after his marriage to Sallie Russell Farmer in 1846, earned his living by farming and surveying, a skill he had taught himself. The couple had no children. In 1852, with his brother-in-law ...

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Comfort, Will Levington (17 January 1878–02 November 1932), newspaperman, war correspondent, and novelist, was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the son of Silas Hopkins Comfort, a Civil War veteran, and Jane Levington. He was raised in Detroit. Comfort later claimed (perhaps falsely) that he was educated at home and “on the street,” that he grew up too fast and too hard. He bragged that he had begun writing at age six and drinking at age sixteen. In his autobiographical ...

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Clyde Brion Davis Photograph by Leja Gorska, 1947. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117684).

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Davis, Clyde Brion (22 May 1894–19 July 1962), journalist and novelist, was born in Unadilla, Nebraska, the son of Charles N. Davis and Isabel Brion, shopkeepers. When Clyde was one year old the family moved to Chillicothe, Missouri, where Clyde’s father operated a saw mill. Clyde attended high school in Kansas City, excelling in gymnastics and drawing. He dropped out of school at fourteen and worked for a time as a printer’s apprentice, attending the Kansas City Art Institute at night. Eventually he got a job in the art department of the ...

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John Dos Passos. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-117477).

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Dos Passos, John (14 January 1896–28 September 1970), writer, was born in Chicago, Illinois, the son of John Randolph Dos Passos, a lawyer, and Lucy Addison Sprigg Madison. His parents were married in 1910, when his father’s first wife died, and in 1912 the boy took his father’s name of Dos Passos; before that he was known as John Roderigo Madison. As an illegitimate child he had lived a rootless life, traveling much in Europe with his mother. She died in 1915. The necessary secrecy of his boyhood, the mixture of admiration and fear Dos Passos felt toward his powerful father—who was both an important corporate lawyer and the author of books on trusts and the stock market—and his dependence on his beautiful, often unhappy southern mother affected him deeply. A timid boy, Dos Passos found excitement in reading, studying languages, and observing the art of the time; he discovered his greatest joy in writing. His early poems, with those of ...

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Ford, Paul Leicester (23 March 1865–08 May 1902), historian and novelist, was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Gordon Lester Ford, a businessman and political figure, and Emily Ellsworth Fowler, a poet. As a baby Ford suffered a tragic fall that left him with a severely deformed spine, the pain from which would plague him all his life. Moreover, the nature of the injury dictated that Ford wear a special harness as a child. As a result he received very little formal schooling; instead, he was tutored at home and allowed the free run of his father’s private library of more than 50,000 volumes, including perhaps the largest private collection of Americana in the world. At age eleven he acquired a small printing press, with which he began publishing compilations of historical material gleaned from his father’s library....

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Frederic, Harold (19 August 1856–19 October 1898), journalist and novelist, was born Harold Henry Frederick in Utica, New York, the son of Henry De Motte Frederick, a freight conductor on the New York Central Railway, and Frances Ramsdell, a boardinghouse proprietor. His father died in 1858, and in 1860 his mother married William De Motte, a cousin. He was educated in local schools between 1861 and 1871. From 1871 to 1875 he held numerous jobs in Utica and Boston, mainly in photography studios. In 1875, after a period of ill health forced him to leave Boston for Utica, he began to work as a proofreader for the ...

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Huie, William Bradford (13 November 1910–22 November 1986), journalist and novelist, was born in Hartselle, Alabama, the son of John Bradford and Margaret Lois Brindley. An eighth-generation heir to the white agrarian culture of the Tennessee Valley in North Alabama, he was educated at the University of Alabama, graduating with an A.B. in 1930....

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Mailer, Norman (31 January 1923–10 November 2007), novelist, biographer, and journalist, was born Norman Kingsley Mailer in Long Branch, New Jersey, the eldest child of Isaac Barnett (Barney) Mailer, a Jewish immigrant from South Africa whose family originated from Lithuania, and Fanny Schneider Mailer, whose family also originated from Lithuania. Barney Mailer was an accountant who was often unemployed during the Depression; he was also a gambler and narrowly escaped prosecution for embezzlement. Fanny Mailer’s family ran hotels in Long Branch, a seaside resort town, and Fanny herself was “the motor of the family,” Norman Mailer said, “and without her I don’t know what would have happened to us.” She was her son’s greatest booster during her long life (1891–1985), although he identified closely with his father’s secret rebelliousness. When Mailer was five years old the family moved to Brooklyn, and Mailer maintained a home there for most of his life....

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Claude McKay. Photograph by Carl Van Vechten. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-105919).

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McKay, Claude (15 September 1890–22 May 1948), poet, novelist, and journalist, was born Festus Claudius McKay in Sunny Ville, Clarendon Parish, Jamaica, the son of Thomas Francis McKay and Hannah Ann Elizabeth Edwards, farmers. The youngest of eleven children, McKay was sent at an early age to live with his oldest brother, a schoolteacher, so that he could be given the best education available. An avid reader, McKay began to write poetry at the age of ten. In 1906 he decided to enter a trade school, but when the school was destroyed by an earthquake he became apprenticed to a carriage and cabinetmaker; a brief period in the constabulary followed. In 1907 McKay came to the attention of Walter Jekyll, an English gentleman residing in Jamaica who became his mentor, encouraging him to write dialect verse. Jekyll later set some of McKay’s verse to music. By the time he immigrated to the United States in 1912, McKay had established himself as a poet, publishing two volumes of dialect verse, ...

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Perry, George Sessions (05 May 1910–1956), novelist, war correspondent, and contributor to the leading popular magazines of his time, was born in Rockdale, Texas, the only son of Andrew Perry, a businessman, and Laura Perry. Young George began life in relative affluence in the "Puddin' Ridge" section of the central Texas town, as his father owned several properties, including the principal drugstore, and his mother set the social tone of the community. Although Perry later wrote pessimistically of his childhood, he owned a pony, celebrated Cinco de Mayo each birthday, and apparently mixed well with local children and parents. This period of his life ended abruptly with the death of his father in 1922, and the suicide of his mother, following a failed remarriage, in 1923. George fell into the custody of his maternal grandmother, Mai Van de Venter, immortalized in fiction as "Granny Van," and an uncle, Harry Perry, who managed the limited estate. By his own account, George became a troubled youth and was enrolled at Allen Academy in Bryan. He returned sufficiently disciplined to graduate from the local high school, engaging in team sports and cheerleading, and taking up reporting and creative writing. Perry then matriculated for a year at Southwestern University in nearby Georgetown, the first of three frustrated attempts at a college education. There he met Claire Hodges, daughter of a Beaumont medical doctor, whom he married nearly a decade later....